Michigan State basketball

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Michigan State basketball: Is Tyson Walker this year’s X-factor?

Tyson Walker has been important to Michigan State basketball’s success early on, but is he this team’s X-factor?

Listen, I’m well aware that there is more than one piece to this Michigan State basketball team that will impact their sustained success, or lack thereof. You could look at Mady Sissoko, or any of the unproven bigs, or tell me that the season rides on Malik Hall and AJ Hoggard. Jaden Akins’ pending success deserves a nod as well.

With that being said, Tyson Walker might be the most dynamic player Tom Izzo has right now. His ability to impact the game on both sides of the floor is key for a successful Izzo team. Look at Gary Harris, Matt McQuaid, or even Xavier Tillman. The DNA of an Izzo team doesn’t necessarily rely on the offensive side of the ball, though you are almost always going to need a bucket-getter. You can look at Cassius Winston, Miles Bridges, Denzel Valentine, or even Travis Trice for that. 

Through three games, the most consistent part of this squad has been on the defensive side. Everyone stepped up for their defensive assignments against both Kentucky and Gonzaga. At the same time, everyone has shown what they can offer on offense. What sets Walker apart from everyone else is his ability to affect the game so quickly. We’ve see flashes, whether it’s been a steal, intercepting a pass, or his shot-creating ability, as well as shooting the three-ball efficiently. 

Outside of really only one game last season, with 26 points in the second loss to Illinois, Walker hasn’t shown us the offensive explosiveness he had during his sophomore year at Northeastern. That year, he averaged almost 19 points per game, but what sticks out most is the nine games with 20 points or more. Of those nine, he had three games with 30 points or more, as well as games with 29 and 27, respectively. I know these are just numbers, but for Izzo, he has only three games with at least 15 and only one game over 20. Walker also has yet to shoot better than 3-for-6 from three.

At Northeastern, Tyson had three games where he made four 3-pointers. Tack on two games in which he made seven and it’s obvious he has the ability and, hopefully, willingness to shoot the ball more frequently. 

I think there will be times during games this season when MSU struggles to get an offense going. That shouldn’t come as a surprise as they have a clear turnover problem, and streaky scorers, from Hoggard and Walker to Hall and Joey Hauser.

Although not at the heart of their DNA, if you look deeper into Izzo’s successful teams of the last 10 years, there’s seemingly always been a bucket-getter.

Below is a list of the leading scorers per game, from the past 10 years who have gone over 20 points, four or more times.

  • 2012-13: Gary Harris (4), Keith Appling (4)
  • 2013-14: Gary Harris (9), Adriean Payne (7), Keith Appling (7)
  • 2014-15: Travis Trice (9), Denzel Valentine (7)
  • 2015-16: Denzel Valentine (11), Bryn Forbes (7) 
  • 2016-17: Miles Bridges (9), Nick Ward (6), Eron Harris (4)
  • 2017-18: Miles Bridges (11)
  • 2018-19: Cassius Winston (20 – insane), Nick Ward (6)
  • 2019-20: Cassius Winston (16)
  • 2020-21: Aaron Henry (7)
  • 2021-22: The leading scorer had at least 20 points in only 7 games

To put all of this into perspective, this season, with a core of Hauser, Hall, Hoggard, Walker, Akins, and Sissoko, you get only 15 games across their entire careers with 20 points or more. And if you take Walker out of this, you’re left with six.

Nothing against those guys as they have much-needed skills everywhere else. Based on last season’s team, and the makeup of this season’s team, I think someone needs to emerge as a go-to bucket-getter, and they need to score 20 points in at least 8-10 games this season. Walker is the best candidate for the job. Hauser is the next closest to Walker in the scoring category, but he is way too streaky.

Tyson has the ability to shot create, knock down open threes and get to the rim creatively. He needs to emerge as an offensive threat much like during his time at Northeastern.

This is why I have him as my X-factor for what this team’s ceiling is. Walker can get buckets, and he can be this team’s best defender, the only question is, will he?

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